Don’t Throw That Container Away!  (Nostalgic Uses for Old School Packaging)

Each time I view a post on social media about repurposed packaging, I get a bit nostalgic and think of packaging that was regularly reused in the past.

Let me know if you or anyone you know ever kept these packages or any others you know about.  I took an informal survey for these ideas and would love to hear from you about some of your favorites!

Nostalgic Uses for Old School Packaging-print media centr

The Great Depression and World War 2 were catalysts for frugality, to save as much as possible and not waste anything. The philosophy of Waste Not, Want Not increased the desire for people to save items for other uses whenever possible.

Post WW2, technological advances prompted companies to sell single-use packaging and consumer products.  Higher profits drove the growth of a disposable culture.  Times changed, the economy improved, and reuse was no longer based on economics, but considered practical.  Many frugal packaging practices remain and have stood the test of time.  By the 1970s, the convenience of one-time-use products and packaging became the norm.  Disposable packaging became more commonplace and the rapid increase in trash prompted communities to start programs to make people aware of garbage.  Meanwhile, people continued to reuse the same packaging their families reused for generations.

Today, there is a new term for this practice of saving packs for other uses, packaging Repurposing.  Many of the newer repurposing practices are based on tried-and-true packaging and those concepts have been expanded upon.

Let’s take a walk down memory lane to look at some of these classic packages and examples of how these packs were (and in some cases still are) reused.  It is also interesting to note that some of the items that were commonplace are obsolete or rarely used anymore.

1. Margarine and Whipped Dessert Tubs

These little containers were used to hold leftovers and lunches or to send home the remainder of a great holiday meal.  Non-dairy tubs have been a substitute for Tupperware and similar containers for decades.  They were so popular at one point that companies printed special edition tubs, and some are now considered collector’s items.

2. Appliance and Furniture boxes

Kids still love to create their own playhouses with enormous boxes.  While parents agonized over which chair, table, dishwasher, stove, fridge, and or washing machine to buy, the youngsters were on their best behavior, waiting to score those gigantic boxes.  It was a bonus if the item was exceptionally large, or an entire set of appliances came home.  These special circumstances offered the ability to create a complex or more than one playhouse.  Eventually, those beloved boxes that took up so much space in the house always managed to quietly disappear overnight.

3. Grocery Bags

Grocery bags have always provided a plethora of uses.

• Plastic and paper bags became trash can liners for smaller cans and were ideal to carry those containers full of leftovers home after the holiday meal.

• Grocery bags made great book covers, the example pictured incorporated a handy bookmark.

4. Glass Jars

• Glass jars for peanut butter, sauces, and pickles were used to start plant cuttings in the kitchen window.

• Because they are transparent, they were the perfect choice to collect pennies and store buttons or miscellaneous small items.

• Mason canning jars used for drinkware became so popular they are now sold in sets with handles

5. Shoe Boxes

Envelopes, billing statements, and checkbooks fit neatly in these boxes and store easily for future reference.

6. Cigar Boxes

Reused cardboard boxes were the perfect size container to store pens and pencils.

7. Coffee Cans

• Coins and cash were stored in cans, sometimes a slit was cut in the lid to make a coin bank.

• Grease (this was prior to cholesterol awareness and yes, it was a thing to reuse bacon fat for baking and cooking from scratch before CPG companies developed cooking oil). This was also a safe way to handle hot grease, to avoid pouring hot grease into the sink, it was stored until cool and disposed of.

8. Crown Royal Bag

This purple bag with gold accents remains a cult favorite among grandparents and lovers of whisky to stash valuables, coins, and special items.

9. Pringles Can

These tall narrow tubes were a great option for long, thin items such as paintbrushes, the lid kept items from getting lost.

Finally, here are items that stood the test of time and remain popular among sustainable consumers that repurpose packaging…

10.  Packaging Repurposing Honorable Mentions

• Restaurant take out containers

• Egg Cartons

• Gift Boxes

Read more from Camille

Camille Corr Chism Packaging Consultant and Print Media Centr AuthorCamille Corr Chism, CPPL Fellow, has a diverse background in packaging engineering, design, supply chain, project management, and new product introductions. Her experience includes a variety of industries including food, e-commerce, technology, distribution, pharmaceutical, industrial, and automotive. Earning an MS and BS in Packaging, Camille earned a Six Sigma Black Belt (2019), and a lifetime certification as a Certified Packaging Professional in 2006. She was inducted into the IoPP College of Fellows in 2014.

Camille is the owner of Indigo Packaging and Consulting. She is the go-to person for all your packaging products and packaging design needs. Connect with her on LinkedIn, LinkedIn Company Page, Twitter @indigopkg, and Instagram @indigopkg

One Response

  1. Nice article but you missed my favorite. The metal tins that some cookies come in, especially around Christmas time, make great button boxes or storage for children’s treasures. I also have several metal tins with hinged lids that dishwasher soap tablets used to come in.